Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Turkey Burritos with Salsa and Cilantro courtesy of

The days following Thanksgiving usually brings plates and plates of the same left overs. I can only eat the same thing for so long. The best make over recipes take similar ingredients and completely change the context. Turkey burritos are a far cry from the fattening Thanksgiving food we've been eating for days and give a welcome Mexican twist to the those boring turkey scraps. While I'm still on vacation basking in eating my Mom's food, check out the Thanksgiving Left Overs slide show on for more awesome ideas.

Friday, November 28, 2008

5 Gifts I Didn't Know I Couldn't Live Without

How many shopping days until Christmas? Did you wake up at 3 AM to line up outside the stores? I hope I'm not there, being squeezed and squished by the teeming masses of crazed Black Friday shoppers. I'm not the biggest shopper, especially when buying for myself. So for my gift guide I have put together a list of 5 things I have been given which I didn't know I couldn't live without.

1. Microplane

Last year for Christmas, my Mom gave me a microplane for Christmas and now I can't even look at my crappy box grater. Nothing can shred Parmesan or zest lemons as quickly or as easily. So sharp, so easy. Microplane has a variety of graters available for all occasions.

2. Oster Rice Cooker

For my birthday many years ago, my friend Marcus gave me an Oster Rice Cooker. There are many secrets to making rice in a pot, and some have mastered the skill. Some days however, you're tired and when you get home from work, you just want rice quick. You don't want to watch a pot and worry about the rice scorching to the bottom. With a rice cooker, you put the rice and water in the pot, press a button and voom, minutes later, you have rice. This one tool makes life so much easier on a busy night, when you just want to eat a quick healthy meal.

3. Isi Basics Silicon Spatula

My friend Malissa, an amazing baker, gave me these two spatulas for my birthday. I never really had an opinion on spatulas, as if one was was good as the other. But again, once you own a superior tool, you realize all the subtle nuances of what it can bring. These spatulas are flexible enough to scoop into tight spots yet stiff enough to handle hard doughs. These spatulas have redefined my idea of what a "spatula" is and I CAN NEVER go back. Available for $10 each, the the Isi Basics Silicon Spatulas area available in various colors and sizes.

4. Silicone Baking Mat

Last year, my parents gave me a Silicone Baking Mat for Christmas. I used to rely only on a greasing a baking sheet, but then I moved up to using parchment paper, which I realized helps limit burning and over cooking of your baked goods. However, you can only get so much use out of something which is meant to be a disposable product. These baking sheets can be used again and again. They are easy to wash and are available to fit most standard baking sheets. I love mine, and wish I had more.

5. Unique kitchen items from the antique or thrift store.

Don't underestimate gifts found for cheap at the thrift store. Sometimes the best items are the unique items to be found when you scavenge. I love this sombrero chip dip hat I was given as a gift years ago. Its such a staple at our house, everyone knows its not a party until the sombrero comes out! And who wouldn't love a three leaf clover cake pan. Neither of these items cost more then $3.00. What a deal. So if I do get in line at 3 A.M. it may well be outside of Goodwill.

Happy shopping!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Turkey Day

gobble gobble

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pie Dough Cookies

After finishing a pie, I often have left over scraps of pie dough laying around. We're living in tight time, so lets not waste anything. Scraps can quickly and easily be made into cookies while your pie pis baking.

Roll out the scraps and cut into squares. Brush dough with egg or milk and sprinkle with an even mixture of sugar and cinnamon. Place on a baking sheet and bake in oven next to pie. Bake for 7-10 minutes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Best Turkey Is A Brined Turkey

Soaking your turkey overnight in a salt brine solution is the best way to insure a moist juicy turkey on Thanksgiving. It requires no special ingredients or tools except a pot or bucket big enough to hold the turkey and small enough to fit in your refrigerator. You can also use a large cooler filled with ice if your Turkey is too large.

The turkey should be completely submerged in your brine solution and should be soaked anywhere from 12-24 hours depending on its size. For a large turkey above 15 lbs, I suggest 24 hours.

A basic brine solution is made up of water, salt and sugar. In addition to this, you can add any number ingredients such as fruit, herbs, spices, vinagers, juices, stock etc. The brine recipe I've used with success is:

For 1 Gallon of Brine:
  • 3/4 c. coarse Kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. white sugar
  • 1/2 c. cider vinegar
  • 2 lemons quartered
  • 2 oranges quartered
  • Sprigs of thyme
  • sprigs of rosemary
  • handful of peppercorns

For each additional gallon necessary to submerge your bird, add 1/2 cup of salt, 1/2 c. sugar, and one more piece of citrus fruit.

Here is more information on brining poultry.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thank You Axel, But I'll Have A Sargent Pepper Instead

Apparently Dr. Pepper is such a huge fan of Guns N Roses, they announced they would give everyone in the world a free Dr. Pepper today with the release of the new GNR album Chinese Democracy which has been in the works since 1994. As of now, you have 18 more hours to log onto this site and sign up. If you get the link to work though, you're doing better then me. With so many people around the world trying to celebrate this momentousness occasion with a free soda, Dr. Pepper's servers are bogged down and I CAN'T GET MY COUPON!! Arghh.

So, whatever. I'm going to have a Sargent Pepper instead, which is way better because it tastes like Dr. Pepper but is made completely of alcohol. I'm sure Axel would approve.

On left: Dark Ale with 1/2 shot amaretto, 1/2 shot Southern Comfort, on right: Shot in Glass= Sargent Pepper

Seargent Pepper:
  • Pint of Bass or another dark ale
  • 1/2 shot of amaretto
  • 1/2 shot of Southern Comfort, Yukon Jack or any other orange flavored whiske

Pour your 1/2 shots in one shot glass and then drop it boiler maker style into your pint of beer.

Drink up. I don't advise drinking more then two of these. They get a little gross after a while.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Super Quick Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving is:
Turkey Pilgrims Pumpkin Pie
We will eat until we die.

Did you like my poem? OK, lets make a quick pumpkin pie you can easily squeeze into your busy holiday schedule!

Grandma's Pumpkin Pie

2/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. pumpkin**
2 egggs
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp cinamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 2/3 c. milk

Mix everything together in a blender. Slowly add milk. The consistency of the filling once you add the milk will be very liquidy.

Pour in a pie crust. Here are the directions to my Grandmother's Quick Pie Crust recipe.

Brush the edges of the crust with milk.

Bake for 15 minutes at 450 and then lower for 30-40 minutes at 350.

If your tester looks like this, you're pie is not done.

Check pie with a toothpick or knife to test if done. When tester comes out clean with no pie liquid, your pie is done!

**You can use fresh pumpkin or canned. In my experience the canned pumpkin tastes just as good, and there are not additives in it. Around this time, stores often have the Libby pumpkin on sale pretty cheap. If you want to use fresh pumpkin, you need to cook it first. I suggest roasting in a similar fashion to the butternut squash we roasted for the butternut squash soup recipe.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Drink The Cold Away: Hot Cocoa With Peppermint Schnapps.

Hot Cocoa uploaded by Flickr User Theta Sigma

When I checked the temperature this morning, I immediately thought of all my friends who have recently moved to warmer climates. 16 degrees with a windchill of 6 degrees.
So, Leah and Greg, how's California?

Really though, I don't mind. Riding my bike the 6 miles to work this morning, I just thought, well this keeps us all hardcore. However, on days like this, there's nothing better then a warm cup of hot cocoa when you come in from the cold. Here is my favorite recipe for a warm tummy.

Hot Cocoa with Peppermint Schnapps
  • milk- any percent or skim
  • cocoa powder
  • powdered sugar
  • peppermint schnapps
Heat up your milk either on burner on low or in microwave. Stir occasionally so you don't scorch your milk. For each cup of milk, mix together 2 Tbs of cocoa powder and powdered sugar each. In a mug, pour a shot of peppermint schnapps and stir in cocoa and powdered sugar mix. When all the lumps are out, add milk and stir. Garnish with what ever fluffy fru frus you like. Drink up and feel the warmth of the hot drink and liqueur spread through your limbs. Yum.

The schnapps unfortunately makes this not so appropriate for work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Favorite Thanksgiving Dish: Cheesy Onion Casserole

Since Thanksgiving is only a week away, I wanted to share a couple of my favorite family recipes. As you can maybe imagine, Thanksgiving is one of my family's favorite holidays. My Mom always does it up big. Last year for a group of 11 people, my parents prepared a Turduckin and rotisseried a 14 lb Turkey. Thanksgiving is a day of total hedonism where we gorge ourselves silly and have enough left overs for an army!

Cheesy Onion Casserole, a family favorite, is so delicious the left overs are always fought over and my Mom has to evenly and judiciously distribute. No Thanksgiving is complete without a casserole and this one is literally as easy to make as it is to eat!

Cheesy Onion Casserole
  • 2-3 Tbs butter or margerine
  • 3 large sweet onions or 4 medium white or yellow onions
  • 2 c. shredded swiss cheese (8 oz.)
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup, undiluted**
  • 2/3 c. milk
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 8 or so slices of French bread
Slice onions. Know any tricks not to cry while cutting onions? I whistle which works pretty well, but you need a lot of onions for this recipe. Any ideas??

Melt butter in a saute pan over medium heat, and add onions. Saute onions until clear, a little brown is ok. In a shallow 2 qt. casserole pan, layer onions, 2/3 of cheese and pepper to taste.

In a sauce pan, heat soup, milk, and soy sauce, stirring to blend. Pour soup mixture in a casserole and stir gently to mix. Top with bread slices. Bake at 350 uncovered for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, top of bread should be nice and toasted.

Push bread slices under the sauce and top with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 15 more minutes and you are done!

Sooo good!

**You can make this vegetarian by substituting cream of mushroom soup instead of cream of chicken.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Basic Butternut Squash Soup

Now that we have our delicious chicken stock, lets use it. This time of year with Thanksgiving approaching, nothing can be better then a delicious butternut squash soup. This is one of the very first things I learned to cook. I used to be one of those people who couldn't make instant brownies, so that will tell you just how easy this recipe is!

Butternut Squash Soup. Originally uploaded Flickr user ImeldaNZ

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1 large butternut squash or 2 small ones
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2-4 Tbs cut maple syrup
  • 2-4 Tbs brown sugar
  • 2 onions
  • 4-6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups potatoes, peeled and cut into 2" cubes (approx. you don't need to pull out the ruler)
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1-2 Tbs minced ginger depending on your preference
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
I begin my soup with roasting the squash. This caramelizes the sugars in the squash and helps heighten the flavor. To roast:

Squash with seeds removed ready for butter, sugar and syrup. Found on Flickr.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds in both sides. Place squash on a cookie tray flesh side up. Using a fork, pierce the squash multiple times throughout flesh. Place a Tbs of butter in the scooped out area of each squash along with 1-2 Tbs of maple syrup and brown sugar. Place in oven and let roast for about an 30 minutes to an hour or until flesh is tender and is easily pierced with a fork. The time will depend on how big your squash is. When the squash is done, take out of oven and allow to cool.

In a large soup pot, saute onions until clear. Add ginger, curry, and paprika and saute for a couple more minutes to infuse flavors. Add potatoes and chicken stock, bring to a boil and then bring down to a simmer. The amount of stock depends on the amount of squash you have as well as how thick you want your soup. If you want it thicker add less, if you want it to be more soupy add more.

Allow to cook for 15 minutes or so until the potatoes are soft. Using a spoon, scoop butternut squash out of skin and slop into the soup and add the coconut milk. Cook for 10 more minutes. Using an immersion blender, a food processor or even a regular blender puree soup until smooth.

Look at this amazingly decorative garnish made by adding a thick cream in a spiral. Using a knife drag outward from
the center in different directions. Roasted Butternut Squash Soup uploaded by Flickr user Bigbabe715.

Taste your soup and season with salt and pepper accordingly. Taste again and feel free to add more brown sugar and maple syrup to flavor. You can also add more paprika or curry to spice it up. Garnish with sour cream or heavy cream as pictured above and something green like parsley or chives.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Forkable Kitchen Staple: Chicken Stock

Jars of Chicken Stock ready for freezer.

Chicken stock is on the top of my must have kitchen staples list. Its so useful to have on hand when I want to whip up a quick delicious soup, need a base for a sauce or gravy, or just want to give some extra flavor to rice. Although making stock is easy, and doesn't require a lot of work, it does take a bit of time. Because of this, I always make it in huge batches I can freeze for future use. I love making stock because it always makes me feel so old-timey to have a huge pot of stuff cooking on the stove. OK, lets get to the meat of the situation and make our stock.

Chicken carcasses saved from previous dinners and frozen until I was ready to use them for my stock.

For each pound of chicken parts, add:
  • 2 or 3 large onions cut in half
  • 2 or 3 carrots sliced into large chunks
  • a couple of stalks of celery sliced in large chunks
  • 3 or 4 bay leaves
  • a hand full of peppercorn
  • parsley or any other herbs you have on hand

Onions and carrots chopped and ready to go, with parsley from the freezer.

Place all the ingredients in a large stock pot and add water until all the ingredients are just covered. Place on burner set to high. Bring to a boil and then turn burner down to low. Allow to simmer for a couple hours until the liquid is is a nice broth color.

Some only cook their stocks for an hour or two, but I like to let it go for about 4 or 5. I usually make this on a day I want to laze around the house.

If you taste the broth and it tastes bland, you can strengthen the flavor by reducing the liquid by bringing it to a rapid boil to concentrate the flavor. I don't worry about having too strong a flavor because this is just a base. I don't add salt to my stock, but wait until I am seasoning whatever I use the stock for be it soup or gravy.

Water simmering with stock ingredients on left, stock ready to be drained on right. Notice the nice dark color of the completed stock.

When you feel your stock is done, remove from stove top and using a strainer, drain all the veggies and bones out. Make sure you drain into another pot. I forgot this once! I guess maybe I thought I was straining pasta or something and I stupidly poured all my stock down the drain and was left with a strainer full of garbage. ARG! Anyway, make sure you strain it into a pot big enough so you don't loose any of your precious stock broth.

The stock is ready to be put into the freezer. I like using glass jars which I can quickly microwave to defrost whenever I need them. I just save old mayonnaise and pickle jars just for this use.Pour the stock into jars leaving about an inch or so at the top. As the stock freezes it will expand a bit so you want to leave some room in the jar and screw the lids on loose so the jar doesn't break in the freezer. Check the stock in the freezer the next day and when its totally frozen, screw the lid on tightly and you're ready to go. Don't forget to label and date the jar so you don't forget what it is. You're ready to go!

If you are missing any of the above, don't worry. Onions are the only truly integral ingredient in my opinion. Even if you only have chicken and onions, you'll get something good. You don't need to fuss too much on the recipe. Just go for it. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

5 Forkable Stock TIPS
  • Look for good sales on chicken legs and thighs (generally the cheapest cuts of meat). I can find them for less then $1 a pound. I'll pick up a couple pounds to freeze until I am ready to make my stock.

Bags of frozen chicken carcasses and vegetables collected for stock.
  • Save the chicken bones left over from your Sunday dinner, or vegetable cuttings which would otherwise get thrown away to use in your stock. Using plastic bags, place bones, unused meat or vegetable cuttings in the freezer until you've collected enough for a big batch of stock. I love being thrifty and making stock always makes me feel like I'm getting something for nothing.

  • Save the giblets which come with whole chicken for your stock.
  • If have left over parsley or other herbs from a recipe, stick them in the freezer. For stock, it doesn't matter if the herbs are fresh.

Why is the wine in a whiskey bottle you ask? Here's your answer.
  • White wine is a delicious addition.
Have fun!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stock Up. But What's Stock?

If soup is the sum of all its parts, no part is more integral to a good soup equation then the base, or stock. Stock, is made by a process of boiling ingredients, fusing their flavors into water and then, by draining all the ingredients out, creating a broth. Nothing could be easier to do, and anyone who's made their own stock can attest that once you've tried your own, you can never go back to the watered down versions available at the store.

Elements of Stock

Stocks can be made from a variety of ingredients in variety of ways but the main components are generally a meat product, a mixture of vegetables, and/or herbs and spices.
  • Meat. Any meat product can be used for stock. You can use actual cuts of meat, but after being boiled for long periods of time, the meat is relatively useless which I find a waste. Using bones and discarded cuts of meat works great and also fits our frugal mindset. The meat products give the stock broth flavor as well as body.
  • Vegetables. Typical vegetables used in stock are onions, carrots and celery, which all are packed with flavor. However, again, you can use anything with strong flavor. You wouldn't want to use things like potatoes or cucumbers which have relatively weak flavors, however, its not too important what you put in because as you drain everything out, you're not out much if one of your ingredients doesn't pack a huge punch as long as you've used other strong vegetables as well.
  • Herbs and Spices. At the risk of being repetitive, herbs and spices help spice up your stock. General herbs and spices used in stock include bay leaf, whole peppercorn, parsley, sage and thyme, among many others.
Whatever ingredients you choose to use, the great thing about stock is it is hard to get wrong. You don't have to follow any particular recipe unless you need to be very specific about a particular flavoring needed for a recipe. You literally just throw some stuff in a pot, bring to a boil and simmer for a couple hours. It couldn't be easier.

For more instructions, stay tunned for my next post, where I give a detailed how-to on Chicken Stock.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Left Over Remix Recipe: Lentil Soup

Lentil Soup with Hummus Leftovers

  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs aniseed
  • 2 large onions sliced
  • 1/4 lb bacon
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 4 pears sliced
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ~1 cup hummus or 1 can garbanzo beans and 2 Tbs tahini
  • 1/2 c. orange juice
  • juice of two lemons
  • 1/4 c. chopped parsley
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1 Tbl pomegranate syrup or brown sugar for sweetener.
Heat oil over medium high heat until slightly smoking. Turn down burner to low and add aniseed to toast. When seeds begin to turn brownish color, add onions. Stir occasionally to keep from burning but allow onions to caramelize into a nice brown color.

Caramelized onion with bacon and toasted aniseed.

In a separate fry pan, saute up bacon until crispy and drain grease. In a soup pot, add to onions: bacon, chicken stock, pears, lentils, coriander, cumin and salt. Allow to cook over low for 30-45 minutes until lentils are falling apart and pear has disintegrated. If pear still is slightly whole, take a fork and break apart.

Once lentils are cooked and dd hummus, stirring to mix. If you don't have any hummus, you can add a can of garbanzo beans and tahini. Add orange juice and lemon juice to add a tart citrus flavor. Add salt to taste and fresh chopped parsley right before serving. For optional taste you can add milk which will give the soup a creamier flavor and/or Pomegranate syrup or other sweetener according to taste. Garnish with yogurt, preferably labna and parsley

This recipe is based off the premise of a simple lentil soup recipe which is just lentils, onions, stock, and lemon. A lot of the ingredients I used in this recipe because I had them around the house, such as the orange juice and the pomegranate syrup. I added milk because I added too much salt and needed to tone down the taste.

I always say my ingredients are approximations, but I don't want this to scare anyone off from trying my recipes. I add this disclaimer as an attempt to empower you to understand if you don't have one or two of these ingredients its OK. Experimenting with substitutions is a great way to explore food and make a recipe your own by changing it slightly to match your taste. Keep tasting your food as you go along and augment it to whatever you may need: if its bland, add some spice, if its flat, add some body like more stock of bullion, if you accidentally added too much salt, add a bit of cream to tone it down. Just have fun and trust your own tastes.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Left Over Remix: Hummus and Pita

Lentil soup uses up old hummus with Spanikopita Strata using stale pita soaked in eggs to make this months Left Over Remix.

I always say make food in bulk and then if you'll have left overs. I love left overs, but only so many days in a row. You can't eat the same food all the time, and to humor Ira who doesn't like left overs at all, I try to recreate and remix them into something else. Last month, I talked about how I reused marinara and kielbasa into a couple meals. Making over left overs is a great way to save time and not waste food or money. So I decided to introduce a monthly post title "Left Over Remix" to chronicle quick ways to avoid the leftover blues.

Hummus and pita cut into triangles for the halloween party.

For this left over remix, I wanted to do something with the large amount of hummus and pita left over from the halloween party. I had about one whole bag of pita triangles going stale and two cups of hummus which we were totally sick of snacking on.

Here in Chicago, the weather has totally turned cold so I immediately thought of soup. A lentil soup would do nicely for taking care of the old hummus.

To deal with the pita, I started thinking of recipes good for stale bread. I just made the Zingerman's Chicken dinner which uses stale bread for a stuffing so that was out. I then thought about bread pudding, but I wanted something savory. Remembering the Cheese Strata we made for our Oktoberfest Brunch, a casserole made of stale bread soaked in milk, I decided to fuse this recipe with a spinach pie concept to make a strata spanikopita.

Lentil Soup garnished with parsley and labna, a Middle Eastern style yogurt.

For my soup I knew I wanted a richly spicy flavor which could be offset with a creamy citrus flavor hinting at the hummus. Toasted aniseed with caramelized onions and bacon give a nice solid base to the soup. A friend had given me a bag of pears, so I threw in a couple with the red lentils to stew giving a subtle sweetness. When the lentils were cooked and falling apart, I added the left over hummus, the juice from 2 lemons and some milk to finish off with some tang. I was very happy with the complex flavors brought out in the soup. Here is the recipe.

Spanikopita Strata: Pita and spinach with feta and Parmesan cheese before egg mixture.

My strata was concocted by mixing the pita triangles with diced onion, a bag of frozen spinach, half lb of feta and a 1/2 c. Parmesan. To this I added a mixture of eggs, milk, lemon juice and spices to soak into the stale pita. The strata was topped with strips of old filo dough from the freezer. When serving, I squeezed a little fresh lemon juice on top to add a little extra tang.

Cups of soup with a serving of Spanikopita Strata make for a quick delicious dinner.

Both the spinach pie strata and the lentil soup made for a delicious meal for a cold night. I didn't really need much from the store except some lemons and we were able to transform some lousy left overs into a delicious new dinner.